MATCH REPORT – Newcastle 1 City 2

The Premier League – Saturday 13th September 2008

Hull City: the new Derby County. Or so we were sorrowfully told in the summer, the southern press instantly writing off as our chances as a speedier alternative to actually assessing them. Derby County’s traumatic season saw them win just one game. We’ve won two already, one of them on the road.

One of my greatest wishes for this season was an away win – to see City take on a Premier League side on their own patch and relieve them of three points. It was something evaded Derby on each of their nineteen attempts; it’s taken us just two.

And what a stirring victory it was, too. With the media’s fawning over Newcastle and their so-called “crisis” (of which more later), City snuck in, outplayed their hosts completely and proudly collected a win. Not a streaky win with goals against the run of play, or courtesy of outrageous good fortune, or thanks to errant officiating. City deserved this.

It was achieved with an unexpected XI, however – Halmosi in on the left, Fagan partnering King up front, Mendy on the right wing, McShane in for Ricketts and no Boateng or Geovanni. Cripes. It meant the Tigers adopted the familiar 4-4-2 formation with the unfamiliar line-up of: Myhill; McShane, Turner, Gardner, Dawson; Mendy, Ashbee, Marney, Halmosi; Fagan, King. Further surreality was lent to the City team by referee Andy Marriner’s insistence upon City wearing some borrowed Newcastle shorts and socks, with the official fretting that our all-slate/silver/grey/whatever kit would clash too much with Newcastle’s barcodes.

Ascending to one’s chosen spot in Newcastle away’s section is quite a task. Fourteen flights of steps await, as does a further climb once you arrive in. The view is quite extraordinary – a distance of some quarter-mile reputedly exists between the away supporters and the far goal. I can well believe it. And at first acclimatising to Subbeteo-type view takes some doing – however, it is better than it may appear at first, and the whole pitch can be taken in at once.

Attacking the far end of the stadium, City settled quickly and fashioned an early chance for Halmosi, whose shot was smothered by an on-rushing Newcastle defender. The home side responded by winning a corner in front of us – Xisco header it over. Back came City, enjoying themselves in a lively, open start to the game, and King had a shot comfortably clasped by Shay Given. Newcastle’s turn – Dawson was caught out on the left when Geremi’s powerful run left him stranded; he cut the ball to the far post where Guthrie had ghosted into space, but his shot was mis-hit and bobbled safely wide of Myhill’s left-hand post. A let-off for City.

Newcastle were enjoying their best spell of the game at this point, and could have taken the lead when an excellent Geremi free-kick saw England international Michael Owen evade his marker and send a header spearing towards Myhill’s goal – it looked a certain goal, until the City keeper instinctively hurled himself to the right and parried the ball to the side. A marvellous, game-changing save.

Its importance became even more important a few minutes later when King fed Halmosi on the left-hand side of the Newcastle area. Halmosi cleverly dragged the ball back inside and was flattened by a lunging challenge by Nicky Butt. Even from our distant perspective it was an obvious penalty, but Mr Marriner waited for a heart-stopping fraction of a second before awarding it.

Marlon King stepped up and confidently blatted the ball to Shay Given’s right…the Newcastle keeper got a firm hand to the ball, and pushed it onto the post, and it looked a certain miss…until suddenly the net bulged, King span away with delight (and possibly relief) and anarchy descended among the 3,000 Tigerfolk.

City held out strongly until the break despite a momentary alarm when the ball fell to a Newcastle player at the far post – however, it was Shola Ameobi, and we celebrated the goal-kick before he’d even had chance to shoot. Yes, he really is that bad.

Half-time, and we reflected chirpily upon a stirring half. Newcastle had taken the first part of the opening 45 on points but hit the canvas when King scored, and the Tigers were clear leaders on points. We were playing composed, attractive football, our men looking just a shade quicker in their endeavours than the leaden-footed home side. Too many Newcastle shoulders were drooping, both at their own limited scuffling about, and the off-field saga that has so convulsed the press of late.

We did, of course, partake of beverages and assorted sustenance at the interval, despite the entreaties of the home fans. One has to smile at their sweet belief that forgoing a pint and a pie would somehow cripple the finances of their billionaire owner. Bless. And as we trooped back for the second half, most of the home fans’ attention was focussed upon a banner being paraded around the ground bewailing the “cockney mafia” that they fancy has plunged their club into “crisis”.

Now wait just a minute here. All that’s happened is that a proven quitter with a mediocre track record of late has, err, quit. This is no crisis. But for the benefit of any Newcastle fans reading, I’ll tell what a crisis can consist of. It can mean you’re six points adrift at the bottom of Division Four. It can mean you’ve gone into administration. Again. It can mean a chairman wanting to move you to a dilapidated rugby ground. It can mean having Terry Dolan in charge. It can mean being locked out of your own ground. It can mean your clubs own owners looting everything that isn’t nailed down. The Newcastle fans’ utter lack of proportion is quite staggering, and they were rightly mocked throughout the game by the deafening Tiger contingent.

Rant over; on with the game. And we rather expected to have to withstand something of an onslaught at the beginning of the second half, with the Newcastle players presumably intent upon demonstrating they actually deserve to play for a Massive Club in front of the World’s Best Fans. Not a bit of it – the ball was a near-permanent fixture in the Newcastle half, and Turner sent a shot arcing over a half-cleared corner.

No matter, for a moment of beauty and perfection was just around the corner. A Newcastle corner was cleared Halmosi, who fed Marney inside his own half. An instant of vision and precision saw him send a forty-yard pass into the path of Marlon King, with only Coloccini blocking his path to goal. King thundered down the right, checked inside to leave the Newcastle defender sprawling, and curled a twenty-yard shot with his left foot past Given.

The City fans went absolutely mental at this. A goal spanning a hundred yards of the pitch in under ten seconds, a breakaway goal of genuine Premier League quality, a magnificent finish – even if this’d been an unimportant goal, it’d have been worth going nuts over. As the away end became a single amorphous mass of humanity, one sensed it wasn’t exactly unimportant.

Newcastle looked bitterly deflated, but they nearly got lucky straight away when an overhit cross nearly caught Myhill out – he palmed the ball onto the crossbar and it fell to safety. That aside, City were in complete command, convincingly out-playing an established Premier League on their own patch. We rubbed our eyes, and after a terrific round of left-side/right-side (I love that, and it sounds great on the television too), got down to some serious gloating: a successful request for Phil Brown to give us a wave was followed by a similar entreaty to Kevin Keegan. This duly rebuffed, we enquired as to Mr Keegan’s present whereabouts, before loudly suggesting that Newcastle and Grimsby were not as dissimilar as one may have thought. This was capped off by a joyous bout of “mauled by the Tigers”, which provoked the familiar look of puzzled seething common to its targets. Happy days.

There was, several thousand metres away, also some football going on, the hapless Ameobi making way for Gonzalez. Still City dominated, and it should have been 3-0 when a Turner header was softly ruled out by Mr Marriner – Shay Given had been felled as the ball came over, but by his own defender. Folan trotted on for Mendy, who’d given a sparkling account of himself on the right, with Fagan and Folan swapping positions. Hughes came on for Marney, who’d had a superb game in midfield and whose pass for the second goal was truly one to treasure. He didn’t look out of place at all.

Newcastle pulled a slightly fortuitous goal back with less than ten minutes remaining when N’Zogbia’s 20 yard shot rattled a post and bounced into the path of Xisco, who smartly finished it. One could possibly wonder why the City defence failed to react to the follow-up, but our lead was halved, and a frantic finale awaited.

Phil Brown brought Zayette on for his City debut in place of Marlon King as the Tigers aimed to shore things up, and Mr Marriner provoked groans of dismay by decided that five extra minutes were to be played as City grimly held on. And he was a busy man during that time, cautioning Halmosi for a deliberate foul to halt a Newcastle raid, and then producing a red card for a venomous assault on Craig Fagan by Guthrie. Bewilderingly, he was applauded from the pitch by the Newcastle fans still left in the ground – he was goaded from it by the amber masses, and with him Newcastle seemed to realise they had been bested.

No further goalmouth action took place, and after nearly seven additional minutes, Mr Marriner concluded things, and the City fans cavorted with glee as the players, starring Dancin’ Bernard Mendy, swarmed over to receive our acclaim.

Big, determined performances studded the whole pitch. Myhill made a magnificent save at 0-0. Turner and Gardner coped imperiously with most of Newcastle’s threats, while McShane was combative and resolute in his City debut. Marney and Ashbee controlled the midfield for large swathes of the game, while Halmosi and Mendy gave the side genuine width and pace. King was a battering ram – strong, skilful, predatory – while Craig Fagan has a scorching afternoon, a constant menace and disruptive irritant at all times.

A momentous afternoon. All manner of monkeys must be removed from our backs, all manner of ducks must be broken if we’re to survive. Geovanni scored that critical first ever Premier League goal; Caleb Folan ensured that first ever Premier League win; Garcia nodded us to that first ever away point; now Marlon King has fired us to a first ever Premier League win on the road. Few obvious milestones await, save for a clean sheet.

But no matter. City are fourth in the Premier League after four games, and survival is a genuine prospect. We don’t look out of place, and while a long hard winter awaits, and keeping key players fit and playing well is a must if we’re to have a chance, it has been an exhilarating start. We’re fighting hard, we’re scoring goals, the Tiger Nation has never been so loud and intense, and however it turns out, right now we’re loving it. (AD)

Myhill 7.5; McShane 7; Turner 7; Gardner 7.5; Dawson 7; Mendy 7.5; Ashbee 7; Marney 8; Halmosi 7; King 8; Fagan 8.5